Staving off hacking attempts seems to be the big topic amongst political party leaders these days. Following the hack of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election, which led to embarrassing results for top party members, organizers of the political machines want to figure out the best protocols for keeping their sensitive data and communications safe.
This is no surprise.
According to statistics compiled by industry leaders, hacktivism, or hacks with political motivations, made up nearly 15 percent of all cybercrime globally in 2016. True, this is a far cry from the over 70 percent driven by illicit financial gain, but even so, it indicates a very large volume of cyber attacks.
Hacktivism takes many forms and is executed by a colorful mix of perpetrators. One recent notable example is the hacking of the Twitter account of Black Lives Matter activist and former Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson. In June 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, an unknown Trump supporter gained illicit access by contacting a Verizon customer support representative and impersonating Mckesson, after which they proceeded to tweet pro-Trump posts via the account.
In March of this year, a political row between Turkey and Holland spewed into cyberspace when an unidentified Turkish hacker group began to run a defacing campaign against Dutch websites.
Only a few months ago in June, a pro-ISIS hacker group called Team System DZ claimed responsibility for the hacking and defacing of several state government websites in Ohio and Maryland.
These cases and more like them show a trend. There are hackers out there who are capable and willing to execute attacks to sway a political situation.
And US politicians are scrambling to catch up.
The problem is that this issue of defending against hacktivism is relatively new. In the words of one Democratic campaigner “For finance or fundraising or field, there are best practices … passed down from older campaigns. There really isn’t anything comparable for data security.”
Some senior Democrats are trying to get their teams on board with using new technologies. Many have reportedly started using Wickr, the end-to-end encrypted messaging app for all internal communications instead of email. But new innovations are often difficult to implement as old practices die hard.
Specific tactics aside, it is clear that a whole new industry has opened up in the political arena, that of preventing cyber espionage. The scandalous events of the previous election and undying rumors of Russian collusion in support of Trump, only serve to increase the hype.
Signs of seriously upping cybersecurity measures for political campaigns are already emerging. Democrat J.B. Pritzker, currently running for governor of Illinois, has acquired the services of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, the same company that was hired by the Democratic party in the wake of the 2016 data leaks.
With this trend of bolstering IT security clearly on the move upward, it will be interesting to see how far the candidates will go, and how the cyber plan will fit into the future of US political battles.